So we now conclude Virginia Brew Review’s 2nd Anniversary party with the big hardware. A late night conversation now 2 years ago this week turned into a homegrown website with one mission: to find the best craft beer Virginia had to offer and let others know about it. In just 2 years, tens of thousands have viewed our site and many of them are regular followers of us on various social mediums. This is not lost on us and we thank each and every one of you for your comments and support.
But before we can close out the year, we have to acknowledge the very best in The Commonwealth the only way a bunch of sports fans can, by enshrining beers into our Virginia Brew Review Hops of Fame. The 2016 class of 5 beers not only distinguish themselves by taste and popularity, they also stand out as ambassadors to Virginia and our industry as well. These beers will be enshrined on our website under the Hops of Fame and will be considered “retired” from further awards.
This year’s class is a very interesting, as we set some parameters last year that we were only going to take a maximum of 5 beers a year, and the ‘1 Beer, 1 Brewery, 1 Year’ approach. Well 2 beers on this list were on our original ballot last year that are now getting in this time around. We also looked at early success vs. long term potential, from not only a single beer point of view, but from a branding and overall brewery outlook as well. So, thank you for the past year and here is the Class of 2016.
Virginia Brew Review Hops of Fame, Class of 2016
Raspberry Stout, Hardywood Park Craft Brewery (Richmond, VA)
A beer that unfortunately got nudged off our 1st ballot, Raspberry Stout was “only” a GABF Gold Medal winner in 2014, but more importantly, a unanimous selection for our Beers of the Year list in 2015. We’ve said it before, but The Commonwealth knows how to do Stouts, and Raspberry Stout is another nationally sought after one from Hardywood. And since they have added this to their Bourbon Barrel line, the demand has peaked for this seasonal brew. Adequately described as a “raspberry that floats on a sea of chocolate,” its domination as the best fruit stout in the state has little objection, and nationally is hard to beat.
Heir Apparent, Lickinghole Creek Craft Brewery (Goochland, VA)
If there is one single beer that could claim to have had the best year in 2015, Heir Apparent would be your front runner. While the momentum for this beer had been there for a while, Lickinghole Creek followed up their Silver at the Virginia Craft Brewers Cup for Herb, Spice, & Vegetable Beer with a Silver at the Great American Beer Festival for Chili Beer. Both are some of the hottest (pun intended) and trendiest beer categories around right now, and the extensive knowledge of the Lickinghole Creek brewers shows in this beer. What is equally as noteworthy is the ability to take their knowledge of Imperial Stouts (VA Black Bear, Obsession, etc.), build from that base, and then tweak them to make even better beers, as evident to Heir Apparent’s big brother, Supreme Leader, a consistent Top 25 beer in the state of Virginia by Beer Advocate and a crowd favorite every year at the Beer Writers & Bloggers Convention.
Orange Whip IPA, Mad Fox Brewing Company (Falls Church, VA)
Craft beer is not for everyone. Some don’t like the (typically) higher ABV, or the (typically) dominant hop profile, or the dense body. We, on the other hand, were already craft beer fans when Mad Fox came along and blew up our expectations of what the IPA can or should be. Our love affair with the Orange Whip on Twitter is shamefully well known, but there’s something about first loves that always stays with you. Orange Whip is that beer. It introduced us to Citra Hops, showed us how balance in execution can tame the bitterness in IPAs, and now the line to get a keg is measured in luck, not time. While Orange Whip probably doesn’t have the hardware some on this list do, it has been a Top 20 beer in The Commonwealth for a little over 5 years now. But this is one of those times where we don’t need a panel of sippers to tell us what a great pint of beer looks like. If you find a pint, count yourself lucky. And if Mad Fox ever starts making Orange Whip year-round and getting it on shelves and not just in tap lines, consider yourself even luckier.
Jomo, Starr Hill Brewery (Crozet, VA)
Whether you want to accept the “alias” Jomo, or its original name MoJo, this beer has the hardware. The Vienna Lager/Light “Amber” Lager has 4 GABF medals, including 2 Golds in 2004 and 2011. Again, this is the consistency you see from Starr Hill. In fact, if it wasn’t for another Starr Hill brew with similar credentials, you might have seen this one last year, but the veterans committee is a stickler for the 1 beer, 1 brewery, 1 year limit. Not a lot of places in the country were doing this style of Lager, and when it was re-branded as “Vienna,” Jomo was already one of the best in the country. This has a year round spot in the Starr Hill rotation, and now it has one on our list.
Hydraulion Red, Three Notch’d Brewing Company (Charlottesville, VA)
As increasingly difficult as it is for a brewery to snag a medal at GABF, imagine it’s your first or second year on the scene. Unless you’re immune to growing pains or just that damn good, you’re going to being measuring, experimenting, tasting, and starting all over again. We’ve been to dozens of breweries after they’ve recently opened, and we almost always reserve judgment for return visits to see how they’ve matured. We did not have to do this for Three Notch’d. They had a star practically out of the gate with Hydraulion Red, and we lost our collective ish when they brought that GABF Bronze Medal home. Then they go and follow it up with a Silver at last year’s Virginia Craft Brewers festival. And all of this, mind you, is for an Irish Style Red, a style you just don’t see in Virginia. Vindication is an amazing thing, as are seeing constant “sorry, we’ll have more soon!” signs on the shelves where sixers of Hydraulion used to be. This beer will be a VA mainstay for years to come, just as it will be in our Hops of Fame.